Monthly Archives: April 2013

Here’s Why “An Escalator Can Never Break”


The late comedian (he’d poke fun at that description) Mitch Hedberg was like a lot of modern comedians. He was at his best and funniest when he was telling jokes even my grandmother would find clean.

I’ve wondered why guys like George Carlin, one of Hedberg’s mentors and a master at mining the nuggets of fun embedded in so many of our common English words and phrases, felt a need to dredge down into the gutter when their clean stuff was so funny anyway.

I found a Hedberg joke last week that fit my situation as I’d spent a lot of time messing with broken stuff. If the stuff on the fritz had been more like escalators, I’d have been fine.

Hedberg wisely notes that “an escalator can never break; it can only become stairs.” Consequently, he says, you should “never see an ‘Escalator Temporarily Out of Order’ sign, just ‘Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the inconvenience.’”

I like the logic.

I finally replaced what was once a nice kitchen faucet but had been frozen and calcified by our hard water. (The old and new faucets were similar; both of them cost twice what I thought they should, and, if I’m lucky, it’ll take the same nine years or so before this new one meets the same fate.) Instead of replacing it, maybe I should have just re-labeled it as a fountain, an immovable water feature.

From the faucet I went to the lawn mower. I thought I just bought that thing. (Yeah, six years ago, I notice now.) But it’s been unwilling to start. So I got out the wrenches, pulled stuff off, squirted carburetor cleaner into various holes and jets, got gas all over it and me, and pulled the cord (which I’d fixed after I pulled it earlier and it pulled out), and, voila!, the mower lives! Maybe I could have saved time by just calling it a push cart, gluing a basket on the engine, and buying a new mowing machine. Nope.

I admit that there’s a certain amount of pleasure that comes from actually fixing something and not just labeling escalators stairs. But the list of stuff I’m supposed to try to fix just seems to keep getting longer.

I’m afraid too many of my sermons could do with some fixing, the kind Hedberg was thinking of when he said, “I’m gonna fix that last joke by taking out all the words and adding new ones.” That kind of fix might help this column, too.

Some things are, sadly, very hard to fix.

I know some folks with calcified hearts that I wish I knew how to fix. Fixing a faucet turned to stone is easier.

I know some folks who’ve lost their spark, whose joy is on the fritz. Fixing a mower is easier.

We’re all broken in one way or another. I hope we know where to go for the only real fix: the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice. Made one time for all forever. No expiration on this warranty. No worries that the fix will itself go bad. No pseudo-fix just relabeling brokenness.

Done. Fixed. Forever. For real. Forgiven. Empowered. Wow.

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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“I’d Like To Try Being Spiritual But Not Religious”


 I’ve thought about it, and I’m pretty sure I’d like to join the cool crowd, the growing numbers of folks in our society who are button-bustin’ proud of being “spiritual but not religious.”

A good friend who reads a lot and, consequently, thinks a lot, pointed me to an interesting book the other day. Written by Lillian Daniel, the book is entitled, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church.

It’s strange, she says, that folks who are so “spiritual” they can hardly stand themselves, but proud as punch of never darkening the door of a church, nowadays feel such a burning need to “witness” to out-dated religious folks, particularly ministers, about the weaknesses of church and organized religion.

Daniels says she’s never felt a particular need to educate every teacher she meets with the knowledge that she’s always hated math, or to inform cooks in her presence that she can’t cook, or to tell clowns she runs across that she’s always thought clowns were scary. But, for some reason, folks lock-stepping along to the popular “spiritual but not religious” tune feel a need to evangelize or poke the unenlightened old-fashioned.

Well, except that I’d be unemployed, I might like to try joining the “spiritual but not religious” folks. I’ve long wondered if I was religious enough to be a preacher anyway. And I think I could be as practically “spiritual” as any of the popular crowd.

I like birdies and sunsets. I like lakes and rivers (even more since ours here are all drying up.) I’m particularly fond of mountains and snow and sliding around in snow on sticks. If you want to find me looking “spiritual” and know it’s what passes for the real deal and not just intestinal gas, catch me on top of a mountain in the snow.

I’m sure I’d like sleeping in a good bit more on Sunday mornings than I get to, which is, sadly, almost never.

I’m certain I’d like not giving tithes and offerings. I’d be willing to try mentally assenting that all blessings come from God but never being thankful in a way that involved much painful check-writing.

But I think I’d miss a lot.

I’d miss joining my heart and voice and prayers with others so that faith becomes a river and not just a dried up trickle.

I’d miss being encouraged alongside others of the centrality of Christ and his cross and what his people have always held most deeply meaningful and true and dear.

I’d miss being a genuine part of a fellowship of folks who love me and mine as family and laugh with me, cry with me, live in hope with me.

I’d miss being part of something bigger than me and the flavor or style I happen to like best at this moment. I’d miss the opportunity to follow a crucified Lord by at times crucifying my own desires so that others in his body might be blessed.

I’d miss being a real part of a group called to follow an unchanging Lord and his will rather than being led around the nose by society’s latest always-changing opinion polls.

I’d like to try being spiritual but not religious. I just have a really bad feeling that, the more folks who try it, the more we all lose. Come to think of it, it’s being religious and not just spiritual that forces me to believe a genuinely inconvenient truth: I need to care about how my decisions affect others and not just me.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

What Do Hotel Pool Alligators Really Eat?

I might as well admit it: I am one tired alligator. pool alligator

My three grandkids and I were paddling around in a hotel swimming pool when my oldest granddaughter, the six-year-old beautiful Queen Alexandria, decided that I should be an alligator. The other two, the four-year-old magic faerie princess and the almost two-year-old handsome elf prince, agreed.

Fine. Those little folks and I discovered a long time ago that when we’re together, it’s not at all unusual for me to morph into a unicorn, or a pony, or, on the darker side, even a dragon or an orc. Adding “alligator” to the list? No problem.

The rules were, to be sure, just a bit restrictive. It was decreed that the “alligator pool,” where gators actually live most of the time, would be in the deeper end of the pond. On a couple of occasions, I was ordered to paddle back over there and quit eating people.

Okay, but that brings up another question. What are hotel pool alligators allowed to eat if pint-size human swimmers are pulled from the menu?

I asked that question, and the queen answered so quickly that I suppose anyone familiar with hotel pool alligators would know immediately. Two items. The first? Seaweed.

Well, alright. Seems a little slimy to me, but, hey, it’s green, and everybody’s mama knows that green veggies are supposed to be good for you. My mom seemed to think “the slimier the better.” Come to think of it, maybe that’s why most of the hotel pool alligators I’ve ever been acquainted with were a little light on the “green scale.” I’d thought the pool chemicals probably bleached them out. But it turns out that the chlorine which may be okay for hotel guests is not so good for most native hotel pool alligators; it deprives them of needed seaweed.

But I was glad to hear about the second food item: squirrels. Even before I was a hotel pool alligator, I was a confirmed carnivore all the way up to my canine incisors. I have trouble believing that vegetarians live longer than carnivores; I have no trouble at all believing that it must seem a lot longer. This hotel pool alligator prefers ribeyes, medium rare. But, if the alternative was a steady diet of seaweed, the alligator under my hat might find squirrels increasingly appealing.

In fact, I must have been needing some protein. I almost ate an elf-prince. It was his own fault. He was squirming in a squirrel-like fashion.

I was about to chow down when the queen got loud and frantic and burst my bubble. “Not squirrels,” she squealed, “coral! Hotel pool alligators eat coral!”

Good grief. How depressing is that?! I don’t think even seaweed slime in a hotel pool alligator’s diet will help that kind of roughage make safe passage.

I simply can’t imagine any hotel pool alligator ever thriving on a diet of seaweed and coral. That queen needs to check her facts and speak more clearly, or hotel pool alligators will soon be endangered. They’re already hard to find.

Jesus spoke absolutely clearly when with love-filled eyes he looked at the little children and pronounced, “Of such is the kingdom.” Yes, indeed!

But I still think she said squirrels.




Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Crowing Roosters, Chiming Bells, and Change

crowing roosterI woke up in my Key grandparents’ old house in Robert Lee, Texas, this morning. My maternal grandparents had the good sense to live here all of their lives. A couple of times a year, for over thirty years, my brothers and I have gathered here, a gaggle of pastoral Shelburnes somewhat off-duty.

I like to wake up here, even though the rooster who lives across the “patch” could use a short “For Dummies” course on “Ways and Means of Knowing When the Sun Actually Rises.” His vocal apparatus could do with a little lubrication, too. But I’ve grown fond of him. Roosters crow in all sorts of places, but whenever I hear one announcing a new day, I think of Robert Lee.

I like that, too, by the way. The name itself and the venerable general. You don’t have to learn much about General Lee to figure out that he was one of the finest men this land of ours ever produced (ironically, I’d argue that Lincoln and Lee were very close together up near the top of that list).

I stopped for just a moment here to listen to church chimes. So far, I’ve only heard the hour, which is chime enough this early. I hope that later they also launch into some beautiful hymns, as they’ve done for decades. There’s been a “changing of the chime guard” church-wise. We’ll see if the new chimers have the great taste in hymns the old ones did.

I’m not interested in providing ammo for any “worship wars.” There’s plenty of room in worship for high quality hymns and high quality “praise songs,” and followers of a crucified Lord should be thankful for an opportunity to crucify their own desires occasionally by singing a song that blesses someone else.

But wisdom is called for. There’s a right time and place for a variety of songs to be sung or played. Maybe in a difficult time even “You’re the Hang-nail of My Life” or “Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone” might be sung with deep feeling, but not at church, please.

Seriously, it’s not just a taste thing. One of Charles Wesley’s or Fanny Crosby’s songs is truly more spiritually valuable than, say, one of the “poor pitiful me” Depression-era tunes. One verse of “Crown Him With Many Crowns” or “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is salve to a soul rendered anorexic by a diet of camp songs of 27 verses (Trinitarian though they may be with the words “love,” “joy,” and “adore” shifted in and out.) Ah, but don’t forget the beautifully meaningful modern stuff like “How Deep the Father’s Love” and “As the Deer.” They’ll stand the test of time and enrich our souls when the thin stuff has long since faded away. Sometime we need a swim in deep water and shallow just won’t do. Sometimes we need to praise God and not just praise praise.

Uh oh. That’s a fine Christmas hymn the bells are chiming. But it’s April. Some fine-tuning may be needed.

One great old hymn reminds us, “Change and decay all around we see,” but then points us to the One who does not change. I see plenty of evidence of change and decay around me this morning, but some combination of good memories, crowing roosters, and chiming bells, and the fact that I don’t wake up here every day seems to help me focus here in a special way on the One who does not change.


Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Easter Means That Hope Is Always a Realistic Forecast

empty tomb 002

It’s the evening of a beautiful Easter Sunday as I write. And I must admit being surprised.

My surprise is nothing compared to the amazement of Mary Magdalene and those with her who very “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,” went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away, and heard the angel’s sensible question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” and then the universe-changing proclamation, “He is not here; he has risen!”

It was not angels that awakened me at 4:30 this Easter morning; it was the sound of a mighty wind. Not a Pentecost wind—just wind with brown grit in it.

On Easter Saturday, a gorgeous day, I’d been burning tumbleweeds (souvenirs from the last windy blast) in the fire pit in our back yard. I hear that people in New York City will pay good money for tumbleweeds. (Scary what happens to your mind when you stay in the big city too long.) I burned about a million dollars’ worth.

As the sun went down, I dragged my chair nearer to the pit, drank coffee, and soaked in the warmth of nicely glowing embers and a beautiful day. My wife’s making her annual springtime threat of loading our fireplace with candles. It will soon be purely decorative again. (Spring can be depressing.) I was enjoying the good fire.

But fire in the pit is good, and outside it, not so much. So at the right time I followed all of Smokey the Bear’s wise advice and turned the fire pit into a swimming pool. I wet it down with more water than was reasonable. Stirred it. Wet it again. Shoveled around to douse any hot spots, and hosed it down some more.

At 4:30 a.m., not an hour I care to witness even on Easter, the sound of wind jarred me awake. An Easter eastern sunrise is one thing, but I had a paranoid vision of a fire-induced glow out in the west, say in the vicinity of my back yard. I trudged out the back door, and, in the midst of cold wind and flying dirt, hosed down the pit one more time. Then, retreating inside, I pulled up the covers and faded away thinking depressing thoughts about a sunrise service speeding down the tracks and about to squash me with more cold wind and airborne real estate.

Fast forward. Yes, it was a little breezy and cool at the sunrise service, but not bad at all. And the rest of Easter Sunday? Every hour seemed more beautiful.

This is where you should remind me that even if we’d had to endure a world-class dust storm on this Easter Sunday, God’s power would be no less real and the Resurrection no less filled with hope. Our faith is centered not on the weather but on the Lord of the universe.

Easter means that even if trouble’s winds are howling and Satan’s throwing dirt at us, we can always have hope. And the same God who once commanded, “Peace! Be still!” seems to absolutely delight in surprising us yet again with his beauty and joy, right when we’ve given up on seeing them.

Nobody expected that stone to be rolled away either.




Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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